Data has never been more important for London

As London prepares for a new year in the shadow of the momentous disruptions created by Covid-19, one certainty is that data and data analysis have never been more important to the future success of the city.

This year we saw how the pandemic spurred the public and private sectors to come together to help ensure London could base its response on the most accurate information possible – both in dealing with the immediate challenges and in understanding their social and economic consequences. But we need to keep up the pace of this work.

Established last year to create smarter data-led solutions for improving London life, encourage more data sharing and tackle city-wide problems such as air quality, the members of the London Data Commission worked hard to support the response to Covid-19 when this crisis developed.

For 2021, we’re clear that open data sets or, in some cases, data that is not open but could be made available through a trusted and responsible data sharing framework, form the core of solutions to many of the urgent challenges presented by the disease. Beyond Covid-19, making better use of the city’s data is vital to both keeping people safe and allowing the city to thrive.

The pilot projects begun by the commission are continuing to develop. We have already seen how pooling data can generate maps to best guide the placement of electric vehicle charge points, but next year we hope to improve the picture they provide by including additional types of data and fresh insights.

We’ve begun to model patterns of digital exclusion in new ways, but more data sets will allow us to provide ever more accurate and detailed profiles of different types of exclusion. In general, this year we’ve seen the value of a mission-based approach to data sharing that ties back to clearly defined priorities and challenges.

City Hall has continued to support bold and future-focused data initiatives. We have already seen some decisive and effective leadership from London’s chief digital officer Theo Blackwell in marshalling the city’s public data into the London Datastore.

We are pleased to be working with them to make the Data for London (DfL) framework proposed by the commission a reality. This is a framework for creating a world-class data sharing platform to harness the potential of the city’s anonymised data to better target public services, plan infrastructure and identify opportunities for local growth or innovation.

Meeting the highest standards in data management, security and privacy safeguards are a core component of this project, as articulated in our proposed London data charter. Since we launched the report, London’s government and public agencies have taken a huge step forward in realising this charter by adopting a joint Statement on responsible data collaboration.

With the public sector side of the bargain clear, it’s time for the private sector to step up, and that’s why we’ll focus over the next few months on developing the charter into a comprehensive document that sets down the rules of engagement for public and private data collaboration.

In addition to recommendations around data sharing, we’re clear that privacy-preserving technologies should be applied to sensitive datasets to ensure the data is kept private, while still enabling London’s decision-makers to gain vital new insights. 2021 is likely to feature much debate around how people’s data is being used post-Covid; we hope initiatives such as the charter can provide both clarity and reassurance to those Londoners with concerns.

A hub for data innovation

As we face 2021, we cannot afford to ignore the tools and responses potentially at our disposal when dealing with Covid-19 or in helping the city navigate the uncertainty generated by big transitions such as Brexit or the shift toward the net-zero carbon goal.

We’re pleased City Hall recently renewed its commitment to data sharing between different parts of London’s government, as well as to developing London Datastore as the key platform, and in collaborating with us to create a world-class data sharing framework.

There will be many challenges facing the capital in 2021, recovery from Covid-19 and action on climate being at the forefront. Cementing London’s place as a global hub of transparent and responsible data innovation by establishing the DfL framework would be a good place to start.

One thing is certain: London businesses will remain standing, ready to help in any way we can to unlock the potential of the city’s data.

David Lutton is executive director for competitiveness at London First.

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